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Beryllium stories fake, expert says

Maker allegedly planted medical-journal articles

By Berny Morson, News Staff Writer

GOLDEN -- An Ohio company that produced beryllium planted articles in medical journals saying the deadly metal was safe, a Massachusetts expert testified Thursday.

Dr. David Steven Egilman said the false science produced by employees of Brush Wellman Inc. was picked up and included in technical manuals and even textbooks used by many medical schools.

Egilman testified during the fourth day of a trial in Jefferson County District Court in which 54 Rocky Flats workers, former workers or their next of kin are seeking damages from Brush Wellman for debilitating lung diseases caused by breathing beryllium dust.

They claim the company knew beryllium is toxic, but failed to inform customers, such as Rocky Flats. Some parts of the nuclear weapons produced at Rocky Flats were fashioned from beryllium.

Egilman cited a half-dozen publications, including safety manuals and textbooks, written by Brush Wellman employees as early as 1964.

Those materials support the federal standard for beryllium in place at the time, which said that beryllium dust was not hazardous in tiny quantities, estimated at 2 micrograms per cubic meter. One article claimed beryllium is safe even in concentrations 15 times the federal standard.

But Egilman, who has reviewed the company's own documents, said Brush Wellman knew even as the articles were being written that beryllium was dangerous in concentrations below the federal standard.

"There is no safe level to prevent chronic beryllium disease," Egilman said. "The safe exposure level is no exposure."

Brush Wellman attorney Sydney McDole fought Thursday to keep Egilman's testimony out of the trial. She challenged Egilman's qualifications as an expert, then threw up numerous procedural roadblocks to the substance of his testimony.

In the end, District Court Judge Frank Plaut allowed the jury to hear most of what Egilman had to say.

McDole limited her questions of Egilman to the amount of money the plaintiffs paid him to testify as an expert witness. Because Plaut has issued a gag order, the company's lawyers could not speak to the media after the Thursday court session.

However, two plaintiffs who testified said Dow Chemical Co., which ran Rocky Flats under a government contract in the 1950s and 1960s, did little to train workers to handle beryllium safely.

June 8, 2001

 
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